APSN Banner

Jakarta calm but security tight

Agence France Presse - November 17, 1998

Jakarta – Tight security remained in force in Central Jakarta Tuesday despite a semblance of calm as flags were flown at half-mast in memory of the 14 killed in violent weekend clashes between students and security forces.

Indonesian President B.J. Habibie left as scheduled for the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Kuala Lumpur, but would return later Tuesday if fresh violence erupted, palace sources said. Since the fall of Suharto in May, Indonesia has had no vice president.

Heavy security was in place around Independence square in the centre of the city, lined with government buildings including the state Merdeka presidential palace. But elsewhere in the capital, Indonesians relaxed on this Islamic public holiday.

Joggers ran on the main avenues which were largely deserted of traffic, shops and food vendors reopened for business after being closed during the violence and soldiers on the roadside relaxed in the shade of trees and buildings.

About 4,000 people crowded a sports stadium near the overpass which was the scene of pitched battles between the students and armed soldiers on Friday, to attend a gathering by the new Islamic Star and Cresent Party.

Despite the calm, several embassies advised their citizens to exercise caution. A New Zealand consular notice said that although the security situation was now relatively calm, "this could change quickly." The Australian embassy also said the potential remained for the situation to quickly change and recommended Australians take sensible precautions and keep themselves informed of developments by monitoring news reports. Some embassies advised people not to go outdoors unless necessary.

The thousands of students, who had led the protests on the weekend, were nowhere to be seen early Tuesday with some campuses declared closed for the first two days of the week.

The violence had erupted as students marched on parliament to demonstrate against the People's Consultative Assembly, the nation's highest legislative body, which met last week to map out Indonesia's political future.

The students claimed the assembly was an appendage of the regime of former president Suharto, who stepped down amid mounting public pressure and widespread rioting in May, and would ignore demands for reforms. On Monday, students had returned to the streets but in smaller groups, including 40 who attempted to approach Suharto's home. But there were no serious incidents.

Police have questioned 11 opposition figures on suspicion of subversion that led to the clashes. Lawyers for the 11 were Tuesday quoted by the Antara news agency as saying the investigation was a government ploy to divert public attention away from the bloody incidents.

Habibie, addressing the nation in a speech televised nationwide late on Monday, repeated his accusation that groups of people were guilty of subversive actions that had lead to the violence.